#FreeBritney: Petition to Remove Her Father from Conservatorship Denied
By: Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
January 14, 2021
The #FreeBritney community is huge, and its movement has brought widespread awareness of the pop star’s ongoing conservatorship issues, which in Florida would equate to guardianship.
After her highly publicized breakdown more than a decade ago now, her father, James Spears, was appointed as co-conservator of her estate and affairs. Since then, he has overseen all decisions — major and minor — in his famous daughter’s life.
The thing is, major changes in the last two years have shifted Britney’s thinking, and she doesn’t want him involved anymore.
So what exactly is a conservatorship? What happens when it’s “voluntary”? Most importantly, shouldn’t Britney’s seemingly reasonable wish be granted by the court?
Conservatorships Are Designed to Keep a Conservatee Safe
A conservatorship is simply a form of legal guardianship over an adult. Depending upon the nature of a conservatee’s needs, a conservator will retain legal authority over specifically outlined aspects of their life.
This type of legal arrangement is focused on the conservatee’s needs — not the conservator’s interests. As such, the decision-maker(s) typically consult with professionals such as doctors, social workers, and financial advisors about how to best keep their charge healthy and safe.
There are four types of conservator arrangement — financial, physical, general, and limited — and they may be designated for short-term, temporary, or permanent periods.
Additionally, a conservatorship can be voluntary, which means the ward views the conservatorship as helpful to themselves and requests it themselves.
Britney’s Voluntary Conservatorship
Britney Spears’ arrangement was originally put into place following an involuntary psychiatric hold and her father’s petition to be named co-conservator along with attorney Andrew Wallet over her person and her fortune.
Currently, it is a voluntary general conservatorship. Under the Spears’ conservatorship, Britney is apparently required to have a sign-off from her father on every decision she makes — including health, business, personal purchases, and even marriage.
While this action may have initially signaled a valid concern by her father for the pop star’s well-being, it’s important to understand that within a few months
- a) the arrangement shifted from temporary to permanent, and
- b) she returned to work at 100-percent capacity.
In the latest court hearing, Spears’ father argued that his efforts have brought her estate out of millions in debt and have even brought her significant financial success. So why does Britney want things to change? That seems to be the 60-million-dollar question.
Re-evaluating A Conservatorship Arrangement
Conservatorships — even permanent ones — are re-evaluated from time to time. Especially when there are significant changes in circumstance. Recently, some rather disturbing clues say that a re-evaluation of the Spears’ conservatorship is due.
First, understand that conservators can change. Most commonly, they resign when they are physically unable to do the job anymore, don’t feel they have the capacity to make the decisions required, or simply don’t want to.
Britney’s case, however, has been different.
- In 2019, Wallet stepped down from his conservator role, stating, “substantial detriment, irreparable harm, and immediate danger will result to the conservatee and her estate if the relief requested herein” isn’t granted. Since then, Spears’ father has maintained sole control of her assets.
- A few months later, James Spears was officially relieved from his physical conservatorship duties after an altercation with his grandson. He still controls all her finances, however.
- Additionally, Britney’s sister, Jamie Lynn, who is named trustee of her family trust (a trust designed to benefit her children), has requested a funds-transfer to a “blocked account” through Fidelity Financial Management following Britney’s death.
None of these events can easily be interpreted as ones happening under a well-run conservatorship. So it makes sense that new petitions for change would be filed.
What Did Britney’s Latest Petitions Entail?
There were three primary requests of the court in the latest round of Britney’s conservatorship saga. First, when Wallet resigned, her entertainment manager Jodi Montgomery stepped into the role, and one of Britney’s latest petitions expressed her wish to keep him a permanent conservator.
Second, she also asked that a “qualified corporate fiduciary” handle her business affairs as she strongly opposes her father having sole conservator control over her estate. Supporting documents named Bessemer Trust Company as the conservator of her estate instead.
Finally, in November, Britney’s attorney directly requested to permanently remove James Spears as the conservator of her estate.
Supporting Statements Indicate Strategic Moves
Among statements from medical professionals, there were two of note. One, Spears is not interested in performing anymore. And two, she isn’t interested in terminating the voluntary conservatorship now, but does not wish to waive her right to do so in the future.
All recent court documents seem to express a clear head about what she wants, and indicate strategic moves toward a place of regaining control of her own affairs with the help of seasoned professionals’ guidance.
Judge Brenda Penny’s Decision
Judge Brenda Penny heard arguments from both sides, and her responses to Britney’s requests were nuanced, denying Britney’s request to remove her father completely, but granting approval on other requests.
Specifically she did allow Bessemer Trust to be appointed as con-conservator and informed Spears of the court’s continued consideration of future requests for removal.
Perhaps the court’s decision is an opportunity for an estate planning expert like Bessemer to get a first-hand look at the goings-on in Spears’ estate so that when she does petition again, there is a stronger case in her favor.
In time, the truth about her father’s and her own intentions will become clear.
Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
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